Forgive me for writing another complicated post, but I couldn’t help it.
What do you think is the simplest, the most basic and foundational truth we can know outside of revelation from God. What I mean is, were we not given the Bible, what could we “start with?”
According to presuppositionalism, we have certain presuppositions which we must assume are true when debating about God with non-believers, or anything at all for that matter. In particular, we can assume that God exists. Indeed, they would say that we cannot know anything without admitting that God exists.
To help explain this, imagine you are debating about which tires are the best for a particular kind of car. You could talk about every possible aspect of the tires in your discussion with another car owner, how some might be too big for the chassis, or how the tread on a particular tire is too smooth to grip the road for the level of acceleration the car offers.
However, while you are having this discussion in which you might disagree with the other person, you are only able to have it because of an enormous host of presuppositions you both share. One might be more aware of these in greater detail than the other, but they are all still there. They are presuppositions like: 1) Gravity pulls the car down toward the road; 2) Friction wears away the tires over time; 3) The person driving this car probably is not going to be driving the majority of the time in reverse. But even more basic than these presuppositions are: “cars roll on the surface of the road”, “cars should be able to go at least 65 mph”, and more basic still, “the car exists and is tangible”.
Back to the Issue
Hopefully now you can see what I’m getting at. The question is, when you walk up to an unbeliever, what do you both agree on before the debate about God’s existence even starts? Hopefully you both agree on the following:
- If you say something, what you are saying is more or less what you meant to say (give or take human error).
- Logic and reason can be relied on as the method of constructing and testing arguments.
- You can know things.
All of these must be true. If someone is debating philosophy with you they automatically believe these things. What would be the point in speaking if I did not think anyone could possibly receive the message I meant to send? Why would I structure my sentences using the basics of logic if I did not believe that logic had any use or structure or sense in it? And most of all, why would I attempt to sway someone’s beliefs or reinforce my own beliefs if I did not think one could hold a belief or know anything at all?
If you can point these things out (especially how everyone deep down does believe that we can know things) to an unbeliever, you will always win the argument. But what about the original question: is the presuppositionalist right in saying that we can assume that God exists right from the start, before arguing at all?
The idea is that knowing things at all is absurd if God does not exist. Why? There are sophisticated arguments for this, but essentially, it is absurd because if God is the source of logic, it does not make sense to use logic without assuming that God exists. If there’s no source than it’s all absurdity. Perhaps a presuppositionalist could come and respond to this post with a more complete argument, but that is what it is in its most basic form.
I agree with that, but I do not think it is the most basic truth, nor do I think it is a starting point for arguments with atheists. It seems to me that the fact that logic and reason are sound methods for analyzing or describing anything abstract or real is the most basic truth we know. And if you would disagree with me, you must use logic to do so.
Even the presuppositionalist, in his or her attempt to explain the existence of God as being the ultimate truth that we all can assume to be true from the start must use logic to do so. You might object that he must also use language to do so, therefore language is the most basic truth. But language does not go as deep as logic and reason. If they invented a device which could be connected between two people’s brains so that one could “think” what the other was thinking, you would eliminate completely the medium of language, while still being able to understand someone’s argument by having them simply think about it (this idea is less absurd than it sounds). Even your thoughts have a logical structure, something that gives them sense and use for you to think them, whether or not you have ever learned a single word.
It seems that God has placed in every human being this basic ability to structure and compare, to calculate and to see when something is not balanced. Without it we can’t do, think or say anything at all. We cannot even begin to ponder the universe or the things of God without it.
This scares some people. They worry that reason therefore becomes God, and existed before God or is outside of and above God. But it seems odd to think that a method existed before a being. Can a method even exist at all. Is it not abstract? For sure, we do not know how God orchestrated the whole thing. But we don’t have to worry that a method will become God to us if we rely on it. If God could create intangible things like physics and the invisible principles which rule our planet, it seems he could also create or install in us the ability to reason in some way which we could never possibly understand on this earth.
You could say that “I exist” is the most basic truth we know. But even the idea of existing, or of knowing you exist, requires a logical understanding. You are saying or believing that A = B, that something is true. That famous quote actually goes “I think, therefore I exist.” And what is thinking but the application of logic and reason? Those come first.
This stuff can make your head swim. You don’t have to go deeper than you need to. Very likely I missed something or got something wrong in this post because this is mind-boggling stuff. But at the very least I hope you can, when in debate with someone who is a relativist and believes that we can know nothing, start by using their own attempted use of logic as an argument against their beliefs. For the truth which says that “things make or do not make sense” is the one presupposition everyone starts with, and is something near and dear to us all.